Full Moon
The full Moon beams in this colorized mosaic.
Bortle10 / S&T Online Photo Gallery

The heroes, the wise men, like the new moon have their waxing and waning.

The Epic of Gilgamesh

The Moon is our most obvious and immediate celestial companion. It has inspired mystics for millennia and been the basis of countless calendars. Whether you look forward to its fullness or curse the light pollution of this “cold hearted orb that rules the night,” I suspect that for many stargazers, the Moon was our first astronomical love.

Half-grown moon,
How do you manage
to forge a smile in the dark

— Emmanuel Isuku, Half-Grown Moon

Maybe it’s pedestrian to adore Earth’s satellite. I mean, it’s right there. Other than targets like the International Space Station, it’s the nearest thing you can look at. The Moon doesn’t take much work or special equipment to find. It’s visible all year long as it progresses through its phases.

I’d argue these are factors in the Moon’s favor. The Moon is constant and comforting. Its features are captivating, especially along the terminator between dark and light. It’s an easy and satisfying target.

When stargazing evangelists wheel their light-bucket Dobsonians outside for sidewalk astronomy, what view do they choose to delight passersby? The Moon.

Ah yes, old Moon, what things you've seen!

— Robert William Service, Moon Song

Depending on its phase, the Moon might ruin your hunt for deep sky objects or your astrophotography plans, but it gives you something interesting and awe-inspiring to look at, at any (or no) magnification.

Crescent Moon
A crescent Moon shines above Iran.
Khosro Jafarizadeh / S&T Online Photo Gallery

The moon is like a scimitar,
A little silver scimitar,
A-drifting down the sky.
And near beside it is a star,
A timid twinkling golden star,
That watches likes an eye.

— Sara Teasdale, Dusk in Autumn

A friend routinely texts me his lunar photos. He sets up his scope in the late afternoon when the Moon is waxing toward full and gets up early to train his telescope on the Moon — and frequently on Venus as well — as it wanes.

Given that the skies in Portland have been overcast since the beginning of time — or so it seems — and even clear nights are hazy and bright lately, I started setting reminders to check the sunny daytime skies for a lunar-gazing respite.

The moon
Slowly rose: my shadow on the ground
Dreamily began a dreamy roam,
And I upward smiled silent welcome.

— Yone Noguchi, Upon the Heights

It felt serendipitous when one of the cats fell from a high shelf and knocked the red dot finder off of my 90mm StarMax. (Both the cat and equipment were unharmed!) On a Sunday morning, I set up in the driveway and pointed the StarMax at the top of a telephone pole to align the finder.

A neighbor stopped at the end of the drive.

“What are you looking at in the daylight?” he asked with genuine bafflement. His little dog raced up the driveway and ran circles around me as I explained about the red dot finder alignment. Then I gestured toward the ghost-like half-Moon, barely visible in the pale blue sky.

“Okay, good,” he replied, “because I was wondering if you’d lost your mind.” As he corralled the dog, he lamented the increasing light pollution in Portland and the weight of GoTo telescopes, then went on his way.

The moon, like to a silver bow new bent in heaven.

— William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Even against the daytime sky, the Moon is an arresting sight. I don’t know the names of the craters and plains, but when I gaze through the telescope eyepiece, I feel like an astronaut making my approach or an ancient astronomer trying to unlock the Moon’s secrets.

As space programs turn again to the Moon, there will be renewed curiosity here on the ground — and opportunities to learn and even participate. Through the Writers on the Moon program, digital copies of my books are headed to Lacus Mortis on Astrobotic’s Peregrine Lunar Lander, tentatively scheduled for launch (fingers crossed) later this year. I may never touch the lunar surface, but I’ll have a tiny presence there all the same.

Not twenty minutes after I packed up the StarMax, wispy clouds drifted in and obscured the third-quarter Moon. It turned out to be another overcast night, but I have my reminders to look for Luna again as she waxes and wanes.

The child's wonder
At the old moon
Comes back nightly.
She points her finger
To the far silent yellow thing
Shining through the branches
Filtering on the leaves a golden sand,
Crying with her little tongue, "See the moon!"
And in her bed fading to sleep
With babblings of the moon on her little mouth.

— Carl Sandburg, Child Moon

I love the Moon. I’m thinking maybe you do, too.


Image of Anthony Barreiro

Anthony Barreiro

June 6, 2022 at 10:23 pm

Thank you Jennifer. Lunaphile, so much better than lunatic! Selenophile would be more etymologically consistent, but the word has already been claimed to describe plants that absorb more selenium than they should.

I love the Moon! Always something new to see, day by day and night by night. Following the Moon gives life here in the sublunary realm a consistent monthly rhythm. The Moon has helped keep Earth's biosphere steadier and more hospitable for us fragile lifeforms, like an outrigger on an ocean-going canoe keeps the boat steady.

Sky and Telescope's Moon Map is very handy for learning the names of all the maria, mountain ranges, and craters that are big enough to see with binoculars or a small telescope. It's satisfying to know things' names, and I think the names give me a better grasp of lunar geography and a better memory for what I've learned about the Moon's history, e.g. which craters are older and which are younger.

Like every other Moon map I've seen, the Sky and Telescope map depicts every feature on the Moon as seen when it is near the terminator during the Moon's waxing phase. I wish somebody would make a map of the Moon showing each feature during the Moon's waning phase. The light is coming from the opposite direction and many features look quite different.

Here's something to ponder when looking at the Moon in the daytime sky: notice the color of the dark maria. Why are they a different color than we see at night?

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Image of Jen Willis

Jen Willis

June 7, 2022 at 12:43 pm

You always leave the best comments—thanks! I like your idea about a guide that takes you through the phases of the Moon, as the features do change in appearance. We finally had a clear night last night, and sitting outside with my 114mm reflector pointed at the first-quarter Moon was a delight.

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Image of donbrabston


June 11, 2022 at 1:49 pm

Very nice article. As a long-time lunaphile. I really appreciate the trip down memory lane. I got my first telescope (a 40X Gilbert scope - no finder, no equatorial mount, no setting circles, no go-to computer - just point and look) in 1955. I used it for several years, graduating to larger scopes as I got older (and, eventually, more affluent), but the moon was always my favorite object. When I was young, I kept a log of my observations in a diary with each entry beginning "Dear Luna". I am a true lunaphile. Thanks for jogging mymemory.

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Image of Jen Willis

Jen Willis

June 19, 2022 at 12:12 am

"Dear Luna" — I love this. Thank you, Don.

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